when an answer is not an answer at all…

December 11, 2009

Earlier this week I posted a few questions about the concept of intelligent design from a biological standpoint but from that of a designer. As you can guess, there was no answer from Dembski, probably because a small fry blog like this is just not important enough to warrant his attention and can be safely ignored. However, one reader requested to tackle these questions and since I did ask, it’s only fair to share his answers and take a few moments to see whether they address the issue or not. Remember that for the purposes of this exercise, we’re not trying to prove or disprove creationist ideas. We’re just talking about the quality of the alleged design.

human anatomy

The common theme of all my questions had to do with flaws in how well our bodies adhere to basic concepts most designers are supposed to learn by heart and use for all their projects. Jeff Sollars explains the lack of interchangeability of our organs and the trouble we have when vital components of our bodies fail, thusly…

The human system is designed to be self-supporting and has redundancy components within the system in order to be self sustaining. The modularity of components between systems is evident on a cellular and molecular level.

Okay. That’s not at all what was being asked in the first question. Sure, because new functions and structures can and do arise from existing ones, we’ll find plenty of redundancies in the body. But we only have one heart, one brain, one liver and one stomach. Should they stop working, we’ll die because we don’t have a spare and we can’t just swap out organs with the kind of ease a mass produced object should be able to. The response missed the whole point by a mile and a half. And the reply to the second question about where we could find a watermark or a logo of a designer fares no better.

The pattern of relationships showing [an organism’s] will to survive determine the signature, the commonality. There are many logos there are many watermarks, there are many identities.

Again, huh? There’s a lot of talk about systems and patterns but no concrete examples as requested. Instead of being pointed to a certain chromosome and told to look for a certain marker, we’re floating around in clouds of indeterminacy and philosophy. With all due respect, even Behe, Dembski and Egnor at least try to point to a concrete organism or function and despite being wrong, they at least try to nail down something tangible. Let’s see how Jeff does explaining why we’re vulnerable, frail tropical creatures which survive by wits alone and lack any natural defense against wild creatures that can and do maul us to this day.

The success of the defenses will determine the longevity of the system as a successful pattern of survival. The Dinosaurs were systems that survived millions of years due largely to their defense subsystems.

That’s zero for three as far as actually answering the question being presented and a complete evasion of the point being raised. Dinosaurs had claws, fangs, physical traits that allowed them to fight or get so big so fast, no one would dare mount an attack against them. But what about us? We’re totally helpless in the claws and fangs department. Why did dinosaurs have them and we don’t despite facing the same eat or be eaten drives of natural selection? There were plenty of times over the last ten million years or so that hominids could put a venomous bite or shearing claws to good use. We’re trying to look at designing a living thing and if we need to go back to natural selection, we should just stick to evolution in the first place.

By now you might have guessed that the question about why humans seem to have no specialized task built into their body shapes at birth also gets no elaboration from Jeff. And you’d be absolutely right…

We are specialized to do everything we do. If we were not, we would not survive very long.

Being specialized to do everything is an oxymoron. Your car isn’t also your plane, washing machine, oven and couch. Tools are either specialized for particular tasks, or perform a narrow range of them. Humans have the potential to do wildly different tasks and as noted in quote above, being generalists is what keeps us going as a species. We’re omnivorous, flexible and lack normal constraints imparted on designed machinery. Ants and bees have the kind of specialization I’m talking about. But what about us? Why don’t we if we’re designed by a wise external agent who needs us to do a particular job or play our part in a specific experiment?

At this point it doesn’t even seem necessary to go into the last question. Jeff’s answers can only be called so by a semantic label and don’t actually provide any information or insight into the issues being laid out. Funny enough, this is what usually happens when you ask pointed questions about the design part of ID. You get a lot of vague responses, sometimes a great deal of technobabble but a real, concrete reply is rarely there. And even then, it’s virtually always based on bad science or lack of relevant knowledge on the subject.

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  • Okay, I’m not an Inteligent Designista, but here are my attempts at answers:

    Q1: There is no need for interchangable parts when you have more than one organism – genes need to be redundant, not organs. Besides, interchangable parts would make the overall design much more complicated than it already is.

    Q2: Ever shopped at MUJI? Short for Mujirushi Ryouhin (literally high-quality goods without logos). You’re assigning a lot of vanity to this designer.

    Q3: Because we can. Thanks to our huge brain, we don’t need to be encumbered with the powerful natural weapons some animals have – we can pick up a machine gun, or a scalpel.

    Q4: Again, lack of specialisation is a quality not a design flaw.

    Q5: One ID idea is that small changes were made to existing organisms (or their DNA, or whatever) to finally arrive at humans. As a software developer, I can attest that a lot of small changes over a long period leaves vestigial code.

    Also, your implicit assumption that a xenoc that assists in the evolution of humanity would follow our own design patterns for mechanical engineering is odd.

    And now I should get back to work.

  • Greg Fish

    Tom, actually those are pretty interesting answers, but as you can guess, I do have a few quibbles…

    “…interchangeable parts would make the overall design much more complicated than it already is.”

    I would agree with that statement when it comes to self-replication, but we’re focused on one subject here instead of the entire population. This is why I used a car as the example in my original questions. Would building just one car with unique parts be easier than mass manufacturing entire lines of parts? Absolutely. But since the car is going to be mass produced, you have to standardize everything in case of part failure. Of course in the real world, the same design principles applied to humans would mean that all of us would be clones of each other…

    “you’re assigning a lot of vanity to this designer.”

    Yes, that’s probably true. The second question was more of an attempt to tackle a creationist talking point rather than a design question. Some luxury goods have a tiny, very discreet logo to keep the designer’s exclusivity and increase the objects’ value. And those good are usually custom and unique by intent. Still, we can’t apply the same ideas of posh products to humans since we’re anything but an exclusive, small collection…

    “thanks to our huge brain, we don’t need to be encumbered with the powerful natural weapons some animals have”

    That’s usually the response to Q3 and it does prompt a few thoughts. On the one hand, we could have both guns and claws. On the other, if we had natural defenses, would we have made tools? And in addition, would those individuals who knew how to make tools pass down their skills so it could be aided by natural selection?

    “lack of specialization is a quality not a design flaw.”

    Conceded. Take away the requirement for designing a specific object and you could very well end up with an omni-tool.

    “…your implicit assumption that a xenoc that assists in evolution…”

    I’m not talking about assisting, I’m talking about designing from scratch. And yes, it may seem odd to apply our basic ideas about what makes for good design but we have very efficient means of mass producing products based on very basic logical ideas. It’s not much of a stretch to imagine those ideas in use by a third party familiar with the idea of mass production.

  • jimbo

    There are a few things about the concept of so called ‘intelligent design’ that rub me the wrong way..If I was an all powerfull, supernatural, omnipresent being capable of creating everything in and including the universe itself, I think I would have done a better job of creating things than what got done…Instead of powering my new self contained critters so poorly that they only lived for a short time and had to kill and eat their fellow critters flesh, I would have made them powered by some supernatural force so they could live forever and in relative peace with the rest of the critters they had to share the planet with…So, in my mind ‘intelligent design’ just isn’t very intelligent at all, now is it? I believe its much more likely that things, people and all, evolved strictly according to the known laws of physics and nothing else…Its very temping to make up stories about some kind of ‘Sky Wizard’ that controls everything, but there’s just too many things wrong with Mother Nature and mankind to think that there is some sentient being controlling everything…Physics explains a lot more than any kind of religion ever will….

  • First of all I thank you for even taking the time to address my responses to the questions in such a forthright showcased manner. I would like to point out that I am not a creationist, and I have no axe to grind, I merely responded to the questions with ideas that sprang to mind with the intent of furthering discussion. I am not attached to the correctness or failure of any of my responses. I hope to gain insight by dynamic and engaging discussion on the topic.

    “we can’t just swap out organs with the kind of ease a mass produced object should be able to”

    I think it is important to not that I was framing my responses without the presupposition that humans are mass produced by a personally involved being, but rather the individual human organism is the result of adaptation to it’s environment. The success or failure of the individual is not guaranteed, with that being said, the interchangeability of major organs would be a weakness instead of a strength because it would mean there would be a dependency on availability of organs to be swapped out.

    “we’re floating around in clouds of indeterminacy and philosophy.”

    I cede to the criticism.